Have you noticed that if you listen to people, everybody has a story? Even people who don’t realize they have one.
I’m sure you have.
Recently, an older acquaintance and I were talking about my early teenage years when I was often called upon to put on my Boy Scout uniform and play the bugle call “Taps” for area military funerals. Somehow, the conversation drifted to the death of his favorite uncle. This uncle, a gentle, beloved soul, had grown up in the Depression, was a combat soldier in WWII, and spent the rest of his life as a rural Methodist minister, embracing his quiet strong faith, taking care of his family, being a good neighbor, and being a good uncle.
Other than these things, his faith and his family and neighbors, his uncle’s strongest love was for fox hunting, a joy he had learned at his father’s knee. He and his cronies would loose their dogs at sundown, build a fire, put on a pot of coffee, and sit and talk under the starry sky, while listening to the raucous baying fox hounds filling the moonlit woods with their primeval music.
When the hunt was over, his uncle, as the unquestioned leader of this assembly, would stand and slowly place his old handmade hunter’s horn to his lips; the same horn that had been used by his father and grandfather over countless years before him. The fields and forests would immediately be filled with the gentle, yet insistent sound of the ancient instrument – a call of such beguiling melancholy, yet joyful beckoning that neither man nor canine could resist the soulful summons.
When the uncle passed away a while back, their being a childless couple, his wife asked a favorite nephew who had often accompanied his uncle on fox hunts, if he would please sound his uncle’s hunting horn at the funeral. While the young man could blow the horn, he didn’t really want to play it at a public ceremony; but out of respect for his uncle, agreed to do so.
The funeral, delayed for a while because, of all things, the hearse broke down, was held late on a glorious fall day, at a remote wooded cemetery adjoining a picturesque country church yard; a veritable church in the rolling Appalachian wildwood.
When the time came, the chosen nephew, a shy, retiring fellow, moved away from the mourners and took his position at the edge of the thick tree line. The cobalt sky still held its fading light, but the forest was growing dark. Lifting his uncle’s horn to his lips, the nephew sounded the instrument three times, each note increasing in volume until he sat down on the final glorious report, bringing forth a traditional mighty blast that echoed through the cool of the Alabama highlands. The going home call for a fox hunter.
My pal said he had never had anything at a funeral affect him like hearing his uncle’s old horn, echoing away through the hills in the fading light. He said he had felt an overpowering feeling of both sad farewell entwined with the wordless joy of homecoming. Normally a taciturn, stoic fellow, and nowhere near being a strong-believer, he said tears filled his eyes and he began quietly sobbing when the last horn note faded away into the coming twilight and a woman behind him said quietly, “He’s homeward bound.”
I reckon so. I wasn’t there and just hearing him tell about it took my breath away and weakened my knees. We need out hearts touched from time to time, just to make sure we’re still adequately human. My friend’s thoughtful retelling instantly brought the snatches of that old poem to mind: “Home is the hunter, home from the hill, the sailor home from the sea….”
Though many honestly feel there is much evidence to the contrary, moments like this make it hard not to believe we indeed have a soul, a spirit, a something we cannot yet name.
But I was always a sucker for bugle calls.